Messitte Reflections on Lessons Learned at Ripon
Messitte reflects on why he came to Ripon in the first place and what it has taught him
By Deana Johnson
After announcing his plans to leave Ripon College, president Zach Messitte reflects on the experiences he had in his years at Ripon College; with raising a family and enjoying all that the campus and community had to offer.
Messitte remembers what urged him to uproot and move his family from Washington D.C. to Ripon to pursue this career opportunity nearly a decade ago.
“The quality of the college and the community as a whole” led me to make the move, he said. “I thought I could help make a difference along with a very talented administrative group. We were at the beginning of a fundraising campaign when I arrived and we ultimately completed it in 2015 by raising $67 million, more than $17 million above the goal. I spent a lot of time my first three years on the road visiting alumni and raising funds. We also spent a couple of years working on the renovation of the Willmore Center. There are no students who are still here that used the old Storzer facility, but it was really outdated. In between, there were lots of initiatives — from the creation of Catalyst and the Center for Politics and the People — to things we did to try to spur economic development downtown that I am really proud of.”
The decision to come to Ripon wasn’t just about the career opportunity.
“Ripon was also a great place to raise a family. When my family arrived here in 2012, my son, Sam, was 10 and my younger son, Jules, was 8.” Messitte said. “Sam is now in his second year at Pitzer College in California and Jules is doing his senior year of high school as an exchange student in Vicenza, Italy. My wife and I are really proud of both of them. They will both be graduates of Ripon High School and consider themselves to be Riponites.”
As an active Riponite both on campus and within the community, Messitte has many favorite things that he will miss.
“Going to art openings and plays in Rodman, watching our men’s and women’s basketball teams dominate the Midwest Conference and the conversations on the pathways with faculty, staff and students about any number of interesting topics. I’ll also miss walking on the Ceresco Prairie and South Woods and the regular Friday night dinners at Brian Gilfillan’s Public House on Watson Street,” Messitte said.
Messitte also reflected back to his finest memories of being president of Ripon College.
“One of the remarkable things about being a college president is that you get the unique opportunity to have a 360 degree perspective of the institution. I’ve been lucky enough to be a professor in the classroom, a problem-solver as a member of the staff and responsible for the school’s financial health as a trustee,” he said. “Along the way, I’ve also been a member of the larger Ripon community, as a parent with children in the Ripon Area School District and committed to the betterment of downtown (which is now thriving, but wasn’t always the case).”
He also relished the opportunity to travel across the country, meeting the many graduates Ripon College has produced.
“I’ve also visited Ripon alumni all over the country — literally from Hawaii to Massachusetts and everywhere in between. I’ve had RC alumni take me for matzo ball soup and Manny’s Deli in Chicago, spring training baseball games in Florida and hikes in Colorado. I think, however, my favorite memories are the multiple trips Professor Diane Mockridge and I led of Ripon students to Rome, Italy. The conversations, meals and experiences with dozens of Ripon students in Italy. I’ll always remember those weeks.” Messitte said.
With great success also comes struggle and hardship.
“Ripon is a wonderful school with excellent faculty, committed staff and great students. We consistently achieve a lot with fairly limited resources. But we also have expenses and they continue to climb,” he said. “Ripon is a private school and so we rely on tuition to cover the majority of our costs. And it’s a catch-22. We need to keep costs down, but we also need to cover our expenses. It would be nice to be able to just snap our fingers and have more students on campus, but there are also many excellent schools that we compete with and the numbers are limited.”
Through fondest memories and great struggle, being President of Ripon College has taught Messitte a great deal.
“I’ve learned lots of lessons about the power of education, empathy and the management of people. I do think that there are decisions that need to be made where there are no easy answers. And when you know that whatever path you choose there are going to be people whom you respect who are going to be disappointed. I’ve tried to stand up and own those difficult decisions and explain them to the best of my ability,” Messitte said.